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Trump Administration Revokes Protection Status For Salvadorans


When a series of deadly earthquakes hit El Salvador in 2001, President George W. Bush extended Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, to nearly 200,000 Salvadorans. This allowed them to live and work in the U.S.. The Trump administration announced yesterday it was revoking that status, arguing that the program was meant to be temporary and that the country recovered from those earthquakes.

Now Salvadorans under TPS have until September 2019 to either leave the United States or obtain legal residency, and this group includes our next guest. Yanira Arias is with the immigration advocacy group Alianza Americas. She faced violence as a journalist in El Salvador and came to the U.S. in 2000. She later got that Temporary Protected Status. She told me this morning that TPS has allowed her to send money back to her elderly parents, also her brothers and their families.

YANIRA ARIAS: Since my eldest brother is a parent of three teenagers, that money's not been only a lifeline for his bills but also for making sure my nephews and niece go to school and have food. So I can definitely tell you that if TPS comes to an end in September 2019, my family will be in very difficult situation without my support.

GREENE: I wonder what the last 24 hours have been like for you since you heard the announcement that the program would be ending.

ARIAS: It's been a very difficult situation. Being a part of an organization such as Alianza Americas, organizing communities around the country and meeting the stories of thousands of TPS recipients, I know there are thousands of families that are fearing to be torn apart by the termination of TPS.

GREENE: And what are your personal plans now? Are you going to go back to El Salvador?

ARIAS: First, we have 18 months to continue the push for a potential legislation. As an organizer, my first thought is that this is an announcement. Next step, we need to go to the streets, continue to organize and see what we can achieve, continue to reach out to elected officials in both chambers, in both parties. I will take a decision down the road, but my hope is we will find a legislative solution.

GREENE: If your legal options run out, could you see a future in El Salvador?

ARIAS: It's a very difficult question to answer. My - I am 45 years old right now, and it's very hard for you to find a job in El Salvador if you're over 30. We don't have good jobs. Needless to say, we have a high rate of violence. And although we no longer have some of the buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake in 2001, but the economy is in rubbles. Therefore, I don't see a future.

GREENE: I wonder if there is someone listening to your story and finds it incredibly compelling and wants the best for you but accepts the argument from the Trump administration that this was a temporary program, and that this is a country with not endless resources and if a very difficult decision like this has to come, that the administration might be following the law here. What is your message to that person?

ARIAS: Well, the only thing that we are seeking here is that after many years under the government support is that we can find a solution. The Department of Homeland Security said it - President Trump said it, as well - that only Congress can find a solution to this issue. For anyone listening to this story, we believe it's in the values and the history of the United States of welcoming communities fleeing violence and looking for a better opportunity. And I am very confident that we can find support in the floors of Congress.

GREENE: Thank you so much for talking to us and taking the time.

ARIAS: Thank you for the invitation.

GREENE: Yanira Arias is with the immigration advocacy group Alianza Americas, speaking to us on Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.